Lee County is fighting Real Estate Fraud
We are witnessing a rising trend in real estate fraud across Southwest Florida. Primarily, this fraud targets absentee lot owners residing in foreign countries. However, we are also witnessing a surge in other home sellers falling victim to this scam, with individuals posing as homebuyers. Property fraud is a grave crime that can inflict financial and emotional distress upon homeowners. Property fraud occurs when someone employs a forged deed to sell or transfer property that does not belong to them, creating a false impression of ownership. Although a forged deed does not actually transfer the property, it deceives the world into believing that the property's ownership has changed. Clearing the title can be a complex, costly process, typically requiring assistance from a real estate attorney.
Pfeifer Realty Group is diligently working to combat fraud by requesting verification from all home sellers and buyers before providing our services. Nevertheless, criminals are employing sophisticated techniques to present fraudulent government-issued identification, which can be challenging to verify.
To address this issue comprehensively, Lee County Clerk Kevin Karnes initiated a statewide effort aimed at reducing property fraud. This effort led to the creation of HB 1419, a bill that established the Property Fraud Pilot Program in Lee County. The bill was signed into law by Governor DeSantis on June 28, 2023, and became effective on July 1, 2023.
The pilot program is the first of its kind in Florida and seeks to raise the bar for fraudsters attempting to file fraudulent deeds in Lee County. The program mandates that anyone submitting a deed to the Lee County Clerk's office must present a government-issued photo ID before the deed can be processed. This measure will streamline the process of verifying the identity of the parties involved in property-related transactions, enabling law enforcement to conduct more thorough investigations into fraudulent activities.
The pilot program will run for two years and undergo evaluation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of State. It will also offer valuable data and insights on how similar processes could be implemented in other counties in the future.
In addition to the pilot program, the Lee County Clerk provides a free service to alert property owners about potential property fraud. The Property Fraud Alert service sends email notifications to subscribers whenever a deed, mortgage, or other land record containing their registered name is recorded in the county's Official Records.
Property owners can sign up for the Property Fraud Alert service online at leeclerk.org or by calling 1-800-728-3858. The web site also shows what to look for and the steps to take if you are a victim.
Should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me as I am here to assist you in any way that I can.